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September

TORI SPARKS
Until Morning / Come Out of the Dark
Glass Mountain Records
Genre – Eclectic roots / Americana
Star Rating 9/10

Tori Sparks

We were slightly late in getting to this otherwise it would have been a very strong contender for record of the month – so for now we’ll just say it’s going to one of the best records you’re going to hear this month or any other month.  This album is actually two EPs of seven tracks each and it is all quality stuff, excellent songs imaginative arrangements and a level of production that allows real inventiveness but which really allows the songs to breathe. The term eclectic really does apply to this artist and her music. ‘Americana’ is a genre which only applies here very loosely on the first album ‘Until Morning’. On the second album ‘Come Out of the Dark’ the alt country / Americana sound comes much more to the fore.

 The first album ‘Until Morning’ bears a strong Latin influence in fact much of it sounds ‘European’ (but its not  Euro-pop) – we also felt that the fractured guitar rhythms were reminiscent of Ani de Franco. The opener ‘Rain’ is very strong; there’s a gospel and a studied use of male bass vocal that recalls a chain gang (think Sam Cooke). ‘Mama’ and ‘On My Mind’ which follow bear strong Latin (Spanish?) influence and one of our team thought the minor rhythm on the latter sing was Mexican? ‘Until Morning’ gave us a picture of a desert landscape and just   a hint of Enrico Morricone – and the Celtic tinged flute (we think) and higher vocal lines were a little like Celine Dion before she went to MOR. The penultimate song is a Latin Favourite ‘Quizas, Quizas, Quizas’and the closer ‘Over’ is a very intimate song over fragmented rhythm and we thought might be Cajons,

 The second album ‘Come Out of the Dark’ opens with the sound of an old 78 scratching – the song ‘My Delilah’ is a country duet over guitars and a drone type accompaniment. ‘Judge a Book’ recalls just a little of Simon & Garfunkal. It s all really good, but the final four songs raise the standard even higher ‘Tennessee Line’, ‘The Sea & the Sand’ are gems of intimate country songs – ‘There is an Ocean’ has an opening of tensely strummed guitar that pays homage to Roy Orbison’s ‘Running Scared’ and the closer ‘Come out of the Dark’ is an intimate song of longing for love over strummed guitar with a stunning vocal chorus sound underlying it.

 We have noted numerous influences but they are shades and echoes this is an original work of considerable depth – there isn’t a weak track on here and we confidently expect to hear much more as we listen again – this has depth, quality, and imagination and is a superb record. Not to be missed.                                                                                                    Review Team

 

EILEN JEWELL
Queen of the Minor Key
Signature Sounds SIG2039
Genre – Roots / Americana / Retro rock ‘n roll
Star Rating 9/10

Eilen Jewell

Eilen Jewell’s fourth solo (with her band) album maintains the amazingly high standard of her previous work. This differs slightly in being 100% original whereas previous works contained a sprinkling of covers. The audio quality of this recording is superb and crystal clear with a great drum sound yet at the same time it is also a retro sound, there are many instances on the album where the audio quality is similar to what characterized singles through the earlier decades. The retro aspect is further promoted by the material which draws on and blends numerous influences. Eilen Jewell’s voice has an almost indescribable quality to it –it’s gentle, vulnerable but above all it adds authenticity to the songs – in every case you believe her, she is the person in the stories. The album opens with an instrumental track ‘Radio City’ with a guitar and sax sound that recalls the halcyon days of pop instrumentals – Link Wray, Duane Eddy et al – then we’re into the songs – ‘I Remember You’ a slow country tinged ballad of regret. The tempo rises for the title track ‘Queen of the Minor Key’, a superb Rockabilly riff here and great lyrics – there’s an air of melancholy that pervades the who selection – like classic honky tonk country ballads- but unlike the recent Gillian Welch album the depressed us the mood here is constantly lightening and becoming positive. One of the team imagined a picture of Eilen Jewell as she sings; in classic style she’s standing on a high street in a shop doorway, looking out on a lonely street and reflecting sadly on failed love affairs – then a smile flickers across her face as she recalls some blessing…a fanciful thought maybe…but it captures the mood of this.

We tried to agree on best tracks but in general we like them all – ‘That’s Where I’m Going’ with wonderfully evocative pedal steel was notable, ‘Santa Fe’ with its elegiac melody was another and ‘Bang Bang’ with superb saxophone yet another. The musicianship is superb and some here reckon that guitarist Jerry Miller is the best around – melodic, economical, sympathetic – the adjectives just roll on…and on…and the rest of the band are superb – Jason Beck on drums and percussion, Jerry Sciasta on upright bass, they’re all right on the ball there as are the guests including David Scholl on saxophone and Rich Dubois on fiddle. This is a superb record with sufficient depth for repeated listens. Eilen Jewell? Oh yes indeed she is the one.

                                                                                               Review Team

 CINQUE
A Long Way to Go
Privately Produced
Genre – mellow soul/blues
Star Rating 7.5/10

Cinque

The heart of Cinque- (its pronounced sin-kwee, which cost someone here a beer as they were sure that it should be chin-kwee) is the pairing of Ian Sinclair on vocals and Stuart Dixon on guitar. The songs are all original except one; written by Ian, and Stuart did the arrangements. On the album the two are augmented by Janos Bajtala on keyboards, Johan Buyg on bass and Richard Newman on drums. Stuart is a well known name on the blues circuit but here he and Ian have given us something that steps a long way from the blues. They’ve certainly avoided the clichés that abound on so many records today, no long guitar solos, no ‘British’ on-the-beat drumming and no clichéd ‘My baby’s got a black cat bone’ lyrics. What they have achieved is an ultra-smooth, mellow groove an uber-relaxed and laid-back sunshine mix with a hint of soul and a touch of blues– some might describe it as MOR blues. Musical structures recalled the Impressions (Curtis Mayfield’s band). Ian Sinclair has found a distinctive voice – there are shades of Mayfield but not quite the range. It’s a very close-up and intimate vocal sound – almost like he’s singing to you real close-up and confiding. Stuart’s guitar is immaculate as ever and the other musical contributions are extremely tasteful.

 The standard of the songs is pretty even throughout with possibly  the opener ‘You’re So Fine’ and ‘I’m a Train’ being standouts – the riff on which the latter is built bears a close resemblance to ‘Standing on Shaky Ground’, nonetheless, it’s a good funky track. ‘You Saved Me’ is a nice gospel style number and the closer ‘My Heart’ is a very intimate song – Ian is accompanied by Stuart alone on resonator; we’re not sure why it’s listed as a bonus track unless Stuart and co were worried by the long list of musicians who’ve suffered agonizing deaths after putting a ‘13th’ track on the album? 

The only track that didn’t work for us was the cover of ‘Memphis Tennessee’ it might work live but here it just doesn’t add anything to the original. But apart from that this is all in all a distinctive sound and a good record, probably best listened to a few tracks at a time –its very summery ‘Gin & tonic’ by the pool, music to chill too, or cruise (in the car) too and we are confident that plenty of people will enjoy it.

                                                                                                        Review Team

 

VINTAGE TROUBLE
The Bomb Shelter Sessions
Private Production
Genre- Vintge style soul flavoured R&B
Star rating 7/10

Vintage Trouble

Before writing anything we played this to some of the team who didn’t know about Vintage Trouble – we played it and asked the question ‘British or American’? Everyone said ‘American’, asked ‘Why?’ they said  ‘It’s the feel’. Vintage Trouble is a band from Los Angeles, and formed by Ty Taylor (vocal) and Nalle Colt (guitar). They’re joined by Rick Barrio Dill (bass) and Richard Danielson (drums). The album follows on from a very successful appearance on ‘Later’ and an established reputation as a powerful live act in the US. Their web site describes the music as having ‘the feel and essence of the original soul movement’. Well the music is good– it is certainly a vintage sound but its much more classic R&B with a touch of the Doors and the occasional hint of soul that really flowers on the closing track ‘Run Outta You’. Its very close in sound and harmonic structure to British R&B as it was at time the old blues boom faded and soul came in, but it has a distinct American feel (hence the Doors comparison). But here are naturally enough other influences at work here that give it a vintage yet contemporary feel – there is a frisson US punk / garage just below the surface, perhaps that is what adds a slightly frantic energy to the proceedings.

Ty Taylor’s vocals are truly the album’s strongpoint, and he is an energetic and charismatic performer. If they added keyboards the band could go in a much more classic soul based direction. This is a very energetic and consistent sound; it’s very much an ensemble performance with little soloing. The songs are good throughout. and although the album lacks a really killer song  ‘Blues Hand Me Down’, ‘Nancy Lee’ (reminiscent of Susie Q) and ‘Run Outta You’ are good enough and would definitely slay the listener in live performance. All in all this is a good record from a good band that promises much to come and we reckon that they will be well worth catching live – that’s when this band will really catch fire.

 

                                                                                                                Review Team

 

VIRGIL and the ACELERATORS
The Radium
Mystic Records MYSCD205
Genre – Rock / Blues
Star rating 7.5/10

Virgil & the Acceloraters

This is the first album by one of the youngest Blues / rock outfits in the UK – they are led by 19 year old Virgil McMahon on vocals and guitars, on drums is Virgil’s brother Gabe 17  and Jack Timms 21 years old is on bass. Virgil McMahon has a superb playing technique – he’s obviously listened to Hendrix and the rest of the Blues / rock canon and absorbed it all. That said there is at the present time a torrent of brilliant young guitarists around and of rock / blues guitar based trios. So Virgil needs something else to really stand out –and he has it – what makes Virgil stand out among several of his contemporaries is his voice, yes his guitar is excellent – but so are many –but it is his voice and subsequently the vocals that stand out. It’s a better voice than most – rich timbre and with character that will develop greatly as he develops his music. It’s that which should ultimately enable Virgil to stand right out – the voice coupled with his guitar playing is a truly formidable weapon and ultimately it’s the voice and the songs which have to stand out in order to project the music beyond the confines of the blues / rock circuit – because in the end people (the public) remember songs and singers not guitar solos. It’s been said that solos are for instant thrills, so-to-speak, but songs are there to last (hopefully).

The opening track ‘Working Man’ is a good song, the best on the album – it seems to be the cornerstone of the band’s repertoire – after a one minute intro on resonator guitar to set the atmosphere Virgil launches into a the song; the structure is similar to Neil Young’s ‘Ohio’ but Virgil has a killer hook line on the guitar, its deceptively simple but it draws you in and makes you listen. On this one track Virgil has discovered the secret, if he can repeat this it will take him far; the secret is that the guitar lick and the song are a whole.  This track builds and enables Virgil to deliver lashings of killer guitar. It’s a storming opening track. Track 2 ‘Refuse to Believe’ is basically ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ re-written, a bit obvious after the great opener but from then onwards the album is very good with track 4 ‘88’ probably the other very strong number. ‘Backstabber’ is a ZZ Top styled bar-room boogie rocker. We’d recommend the album if you like rock / blues – Virgil sings better than almost any of his contemporaries.

The album brings us to the question ‘how do you make something original in the light of the huge catalogue of classic blues and rock that already exists’- and maybe more importantly – ‘what can Virgil and co do to bring thus music in format that will reach the ‘doof-doof music’ generation? This album and in particular the opening track is a very good start. Virgil has great technique; he has the voice and (God willing) a lifetime to develop his gifts. This album is an excellent start and we look forward to what is to come in the future.

ROBERT RANDOLPH & the Family Band

We Walk this Road

Warner Bros 5099908229328

Genre – contemporary blues /gospel

Star rating 8/10

Robert Randolph

This is something different – a highly original fusion of contemporary sounds with traditional blues and gospel. Robert Randolph sings and plays pedal steel guitar. The family band is augmented by Jim Keltner on drums and T. Bone Burnett on guitar who also produced. Robert Randolph’s background is fascinating – he comes from a strict evangelical church background and amazingly was only introduced to the whole body of Blues / Roots and Blues rock music ten years ago. It was a revelation and it added to a style that he had built listening only to the pedal steel players who played in church. Those players had heard all of the great original blues music and its influence pervaded their highly melodic playing. The result, when Robert was introduced to the real thing, is an amazing blend of influences – blues guitar that doesn’t sound quite like anyone else.

The album is a gospel based celebration of Afro /American music of the past 100 years or so and is set out in the style of short samples of old blues and gospel songs each leading to a new song or a contemporary take on an old song. A feature of the album is a big drum sound – recorded by T. Bone Burnett in such a way as to capture the essence of [what we perceive as] African drum sounds – it marries contemporary to modern sounds and he seems to have worked a piece of aural magic.

 

The opening sample ‘Travelling Shoes’, an old gospel tune from way back and it segues neatly into ‘Travelling Shoes’ a modern version written by Robert a medium tempo – drums boom-dah-boom – then creamy pedal steel guitar leading into funky Afro influenced song, the album title is taken from the lyric, its a modern take on the old theme of walking the road of life and asking where you are going to end up. The music segues back into another 10 second sample of the old ‘Travelling Shoes’ and then its   into ‘Back to the Wall’ and the Dylan song ‘Shot of Love’, an excellent version this and it’s worth noting that Jim Keltner played on this and on Dylan’s original. The message of the Christian gospel is clearly running through the album without there being any sense of preaching and it is clearest in the album’s stand-out track ‘I Still Belong to Jesus’ a song that echoes New Testament teaching about God’s faithfulness [the parable of the Prodigal son for example], but it stands as a song in it’s own right, its funky and T. Bone Walker has created a great atmosphere. The album stays at a peak for the next track; a 27 second sample of Blind Willie Johnson leads into ‘If I Had My Way’ and we get 5minutes and 35 seconds of magical swinging music that builds from a jam on the harmonic theme of Johnson’s song. It features Ben Harper on slide guitar and harmony vocals – a hot track.

 

The rest of the tracks are a fascinating mix – Prince’s song ‘Walk Don’t Walk’ and John Lennon’s ‘I Don’t Wanna be a Soldier Mama’ are both given distinctive treatments and the album closes with a soulful gospel ballad ‘Salvation.’ T. Bone Burnett has done a superb production job and Robert Randolph and Co have produced a work the really does honour the great blues / gospel traditions and adds an original spin. This is a very positive record and Robert Randolph has given us a contemporary sound that contains a timeless message.

Review Team

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                            Review Team

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